By Rob Markman
Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music crew have finally released their first compilation album, and even though the title doesn’t quite fit the season, Cruel Summer continues Kanye’s quest to set a new standard for hip-hop.
Save for possibly Dr. Dre, who has tinkered with his still unreleased Detox album for nearly a decade, no single artist in the genre is as meticulous in the studio as Yeezy. Needless to say, the bar for G.O.O.D. Music’s Kanye-helmed Cruel Summer album is sky-high.
The 12-track LP, released on Tuesday (September 18), rounds up ’Ye’s band of musical mercenaries. Big Sean, Pusha T, Common, Kid Cudi, Cyhi the Prynce and John Legend all make key contributions, while non-G.O.O.D. (but still great) artists like Jay-Z, 2 Chainz, Raekwon and Marsha Ambrosius appear as well. It’s R. Kelly who steals the show on the first track, “To the World.” The “I Believe I Can Fly” singer urges listeners to throw their middle fingers up in a surprisingly motivational tune, where he proclaims, “The whole world is a couch, bitch, I’m Rick James tonight,” in a nod to Dave Chappelle’s everlasting depiction of the legendary pop star.
As far as album openers go, “To the World” is a spotless first step, maybe too good, as it pushes the bar up another few notches before track two even begins. Though ’Ye’s musical presence is felt throughout,Cruel Summer is unlike any of Yeezy’s well-weaved solo affairs. The G.O.O.D. Music head honcho jumps on seven out of the 12 tracks, including previously heard songs “Mercy,” “New God Flow,” “Cold,”“Clique” and Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like” remix. In fact, if there is any knock against Cruel Summer it’s that the LP provides few “new” moments, and we all know how much value ’Ye places on the wow-factor. It’s certainly not uncommon for an artist to roll-out several tracks before an album’s release, but after Kanye and Hov’s leak-free Watch the Throne last year, hearing five out of Cruel Summer’s 12 tracks prior to ripping off the CD’s packaging robs fans of the discovery moments that they usually look to Kanye for.
That’s not to say that the songs we’ve gotten beforehand aren’t great. “Mercy” is still as catchy as ever and “Cold” is still a loud and boisterous banger. The Jay-Z-assisted “Clique,” with its buzzing bass gets better with each listen even if the well-traveled “I Don’t Like (Remix)” sounds like it would’ve been best left as a bonus cut.
The reggae-tinged “The Morning” brings together Raekwon, Pusha T, Common, Cyhi the Prynce, 2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, D’banj and Kanye for an unlikely get-money ode. “Higher” marks yet-another return of 1990’s rap star Ma$e and “The One” is a sentimental rags-to-riches story. Cudi’s solo track “Creepers” is just as good as the standouts off his 2009 Man on the Moon debut and John Legend and Teyana Taylor’s “Bliss” is a quality R&B duet.
Cruel Summer shouldn’t be confused with a Kanye West solo affair — this is no Dark Twisted follow-up — but as compilations go, G.O.O.D.’s first shot is a strong one.